Published: August 9, 2011
“To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama” explores the Gilcrease Museum’s unique holdings of pre-Columbian gold and related ritual ceramics in the largest display of these objects since their acquisition by Thomas Gilcrease in the 1940s.
The exhibition runs through January 15 in the Getty Gallery, and showcases artifacts originally used in the ritual practices of the people of Gran Coclé (the cultural area of ancient Central America that extends geographically from the Bay of Parita to the headwaters of the Rio Grande de Coclé in central Panama). The exhibition includes more than 200 items †gold artifacts used as personal adornments and symbols of authority for social, political and religious elites. A portion of the exhibit examines the rise of metallurgy in the Western Hemisphere and the role that the creation and use of gold ornaments played in the complex cultural networks of early central Panama.
On view are items that demonstrate the complex methods of lost wax casting and the creation of gold-copper tumbaga alloys that became signature processes in the region. It explores the making of gold objects and the role that these processes served in maintaining and enhancing connections with the cosmic forces of ancient belief.
Also revealed is the symbolic and economic significance of gold in the region from pre-Columbian times through the Spanish Conquest, as well as the influence of pre-Columbian gold on the world economies of today.
Over the course of several centuries †from around 700 to 1500 †the people of Gran Coclé practiced elaborate rituals to commemorate the passing of cultural elites. In the sanctity of underground tombs, the remains of important leaders were interred, often along with their retinue. The bodies of these elites were adorned with intricate gold jewelry †incised plaques, finely worked arm bands and bracelets, necklaces †as well as an assortment of human and animal effigy pins and pendants that had previously marked a given leader’s station in life. The burials included the careful placement of ornately decorated ceramic bowls, plates and other containers used in the ongoing veneration of the dead.
“To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama” revisits the famed early scientific excavations at Sitio Conte, where archaeologists unearthed a treasure trove of gold artifacts and polychrome ceramics in the 1930s. The exhibition presents the ongoing archaeological research in the region that continues to reveal new information on a still mysterious past, exploring these ancient societies and their use of gold not only in complex burial rites, but also as symbols of power, wealth and privilege.
A companion book, To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama , will be published in October and will be available at the museum.
The museum is at 1400 North Gilcrease Museum Road. More information is at http://gilcrease.utulsa.edu or 918-596-2700.
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